3. Reem Asaad:
According to her blog, Reem Asaad’s key objective is “to promote and raise financial awareness in Saudi Arabia and promote social and economic wellbeing to its people.” Her remarkable achievements have sent her into third place in our 2012 list, and the highest new entry. Assad’s “Lingerie Campaign” gained international recognition, stirring many underlying issues about the lack of female employment in Saudi Arabia. By last July, he campaign paid off when the Labour Ministry banned men from working in lingerie shops after a directive from King Abdullah – in an instant, creating 44,000 jobs for women. The second stage of the law being implemented could see another 30,000 jobs created for Saudi women - a vital fillip for the kingdom’s economy.
10 Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi:
Sheikha Lubna’s background lies in IT; she won plaudits for developing a system that slashed cargo turnaround times at Dubai airport, and in 2000 founded Tejari, the Middle East’s first business-to-business online marketplace. The firm, which is now one of Dubai World’s most successful units, has franchises across the Middle East and was initially funded by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, and prime minister of the UAE. Sheikha Lubna was appointed to her first ministerial post in November 2004 – becoming Minister of Economy and Planning, before taking the Minister of Foreign Trade brief afterwards In January, Sheikha Lubna met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss enhanced trade ties. The Gulf country is already the largest export market for US goods in the Middle East. The minister is also currently working hard to sign off the US Middle East Free Trade Area by next year. But amidst her whirlwind tours around the world, Sheikha Lubna has still managed to retain her own business interests. The minister also sits on the board of directors at the Dubai Chamber for Commerce and Industry.
13. Tawakkul Karman:
Tawakkul Karman is undoubtedly the female face of the Arab Spring. The youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - aged just 32 - Karman has found herself touring the world, bringing Yemen’s plight before diplomats and fighting for women’s rights. In her own country, of course, she has been working hard to promote freedom of speech for years. In 2005, she set up the campaign group Women Journalists Without Chains, But Karman really hit the international headlines last year, when she led a series of protests calling for the departure of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. One year on – due in part to those same protests - Saleh has quit his post and is now in the US. Although the demonstrations led by Karman and others were peaceful, they resulted in a strong backlash from the Yemeni government. Hundreds were killed, and thousands were injured. In a recent newspaper interview, Karman herself expressed surprise that she was still alive. “I have always believed that resistance against repression and violence is possible without relying on similar repression and violence,” she said in her Nobel prize acceptance speech.
When Fairouz sings, the Arab world becomes enchanted. From a relatively poor background, she has grown to be received by heads of state and leaders from all corners of the world, so much so that she has garnered a reputation as the ‘Arabs’ ambassador’. She was first noticed at the International Festival of Baalbek, where she performed many of her songs. She became famous after appearing on the “Lebanese Nights” part of the festival for many successive years. Fairuz is commonly known as “Ambassador to the Stars”, “Neighbor to the Moon” (for her famous song about the moon of Machgara), and the “Jewel of Lebanon”. Fairuz has performed in many countries around the globe including Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Netherlands, Greece, Canada, United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and her home country Lebanon. She has performed in many venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1962, the New York Carnegie Hall in 1971, the London Palladium in 1978, L’Olympia de Paris in 1979, London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1986, the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (1971, 1981, and 2003), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. (1981 and 1987) among many others. Fairuz has yielded record-breaking performances in almost every concert she has held around the world.
35. Lubna Olayan:
As the CEO of the Riyadh-based Olayan Financing Company, Lubna Olayan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prolific businesswomen. The group, which was founded by her father in 1947, is one of the kingdom’s most successful conglomerates with operations spanning distribution, manufacturing, services and investments, across the Middle East. The firm is also one of the largest investors in the Saudi and regional stock markets. One of Olayan’s most defining moments was speaking at the Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004, when shebecame the first woman to speak at a mixed conference in Saudi Arabia. During her speech, Olayan called for a country in which “any Saudi citizen, irrespective of gender who is serious about finding employment, can find a job in the field for which he or she is best qualified, leading to a thriving middle class and in which all Saudi citizens, residents or visitors to the country feel safe and can live in an atmosphere where mutual respect and tolerance exist among all”.
39. Leila El Solh:
The youngest daughter of the late former Lebanese prime minister, Riad El Solh, Leila El Solh was the first woman in her country’s history to hold a cabinet position when she took on the Minister of Industry brief in 2004. Today, she is best known for her work with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation in Lebanon. Chaired by HRH Prince Alwaleed, the foundation has managed to reach many areas in Lebanon to provide funds for development projects and alleviate poverty. Under El Solh’s stewardship, the foundation has become a pillar of support for education, health and social organisations throughout the country. In 2008, she was awarded the Pontifical Medal by Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of her efforts made to encourage religious tolerance.
52. Nadine Labaki:
She has been the darling of the Arab film industry for years, but it appears that the long overdue global recognition is finally coming. Her latest movie, which she also wrote, ‘Where Do We Go Now?’ made its North American debut at the Toronto Film Festival last year and walked away with the hugely prestigious audience award – following in the footsteps of ‘The Kings Speech’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. The movie tells the story of what lengths a mother would go to in order to stop her son becoming involved in Lebanon’s sectarian violence. She is also well known as a director in the Arabic music video industry. In 2007, Labaki co-wrote, directed, and starred in her feature-film debut, ‘Caramel’, which became an sensation at global box offices.
58. Raja Easa Al Gurg:
Raja Easa Al Gurg wears many hats. Not only is she the managing director of the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, the firm of which her father is chairman, but she is also president of the Dubai Business Women’s Council. Al Gurg is also deputy chairperson of the board of directors at Dubai Healthcare City Authority, and a board member at both the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Dubai Women’s Council. She is also a member of the Dubai Economic Council, the Arab International Women’s Forum, the National Advisory Council and the College of Business Sciences. She represents the UAE at many global conferences and roundtables and is also part of the Dubi Government’s official delegation for trade and commerce meetings. Besides providing valuable counsel to various business groups and international trade alliances, Al Gurg spends considerable time in several philanthropic, social and charitable activities, notably with the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Charity Foundation.
63. Lama Sulaiman:
Lama Sulaiman was elected deputy chairwoman of the Jeddah Chamber for Commerce & Industry in December 2009, becoming the first female to hold such a post in Saudi history. Her appointment was even more remarkable given that just a week before standing for election, the businesswoman was told she had beaten breast cancer. The mother of four is well aware of the delicacies of being a Saudi woman in her position, telling Bloomberg: “You have to proceed carefully. You have to respect others,” adding that few clerics have objected to her working with men due to her husband’s authorisation.
65. Dr Ilham Al Qaradawi:
Prof Ilham Al Qaradawi is professor of Nuclear Physics at Qatar University and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Texas A&M University in Qatar. She received her Ph D working in the field of positron physics from University of London, UK in 1991. Over the past decade at Qatar University, she has established a positron lab and successfully built the first variable energy slow positron beam in the Middle East. She has also established a radiation measurement lab carrying out research in the area of environmental radiation physics. She is involved in many research projects and collaborations on local, regional and international levels. Her research is mainly in the field of positron physics working on various types of materials. Al Qaradawi is involved with Europe’s CERN in the Antihydrogen experiment AEGIS. She is also involved in environmental radiation research and in physics education research. She represents Qatar in many areas related to nuclear, radiation physics and science education on the regional and international level. She is a keen educator who is always working to raise the standards of science awareness and teaching particularly in physics. She is the founder of the Qatar Physics Society; through which she regularly holds training workshops for physics teachers and other activities in an effort to spread physics knowledge and nuclear awareness as well as improve physics education. She has lectured in the World Nuclear University Summer Institute for the past four years.
71. Muna AbuSulayman:
Until recently, Muna AbuSulayman was secretary general for the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, charged with spending upto $100m a year on good causes. She is widely seen as an international expert in development and philanthropy. Due to a diverse cross-functional work experience over the past 16 years, AbuSulayman has become internationally recognised as an expert in the fields of management, sustainable development, and communications, media, the Middle East, women and gender, as well as on Islam. She is best known as the first Saudi woman to break through media and cultural traditions by becoming the first Saudi female to appear on non-government global TV and ushering in changes in the way women are viewed by conservatives.
79. Zaha Hadid:
Iraqi-born architect, Zaha Hadid is amongst the most celebrated in her field. With a clutch of international awards under her belt, she has designed some of the most recognisable and unique buildings in the world. Educated at the American University of Beirut, where she received a degree in mathematics, Hadid moved to London to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. She was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Some of Hadid’s most prestigious projects include the MAXXI — National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome, the Guangzhou Opera House and the Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain. In addition, Forbes named Hadid as one of the ‘100 Most Powerful Women in the World’ in 2008.
88. Dr Amina Al Rustamani:
Many in Dubai will be familiar with the name Dr Amina Al Rustamani, the CEO of TECOM Business Parks, the umbrella organisation for nine of Dubai’s free zones. Al Rustamani joined TECOM in 2001 as a project engineer for Samacom and quickly moved up the ranks, taking control of Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City and International Media Production Zone as the executive director of media for TECOM Investments. Al Rustamani has also played a significant role in establishing Dubai International Film Festival and is a regular contributor to leading technical journals in the fields of wireless technology around the world. “The fact is we have diversified our offering, and you can see the results,” she told Arabian Business earlier this year. “Could we get to 7,000 companies in ten years? Yes, we could get to that.”
104. Nisreen Shocair:
Nisreen Shocair took over the helm of Virgin Megastores, Middle East in 2006 and has overseen the brand’s transformation from a CD and DVD store to a one-stop shop for music, video and multimedia entertainment. Shocair, who grew up in Nigeria, started her entertainment career working at a local Blockbuster store in Texas before finishing her degree and joining Sony in the early 1990s. In addition to her role at Virgin, Shocair also sits on the advisory board of several digital and environmental start-ups. “We are not a vanity retail company, we don’t open stores because we want to; we open stores because they make money,” she told Arabian Business last year, when asked why she opened her latest Virgin Megastore branch in Dubai Mall — the world’s biggest shopping mall. “We have said no to developments… we did not open in Festival City and we have no plans to open in Festival City. We want Virgin to remain a destination; I don’t want Virgin to become a convenience store.”
128. Fatima Obaid Al Jaber:
Fatima Obaid Al Jaber is one of the Gulf’s most successful businesswomen. As the CEO of the family-owned Al Jaber Group she is responsible for managing the group’s contracting, industrial, trading, investment and real estate subsidiaries. nShe was also the first female representative on the board of directors of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI) and deputy chairperson of the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen’s Council. nAl Jaber is also the chairperson of Al Bashayer Investment Co. A staunch advocate of women’s causes, she is actively involved in empowering Emirati women in the business arena. “Everything is there [in the UAE]; if a woman wants to start a business, she can. If she wants to work in government, if she wants to find a job, if she wants to study - the choices are all there,” she told Arabian Business last year.
129. Buthaina Al Ansari:
Buthaina Al Ansari earned a master’s degree in Business Management and HR Strategic Planning from Qatar University, as well as diplomas and certifications in other business disciplines from universities and schools in London and Cairo. She is the founder of Qatariat T&D Holding Company, which incorporates three different companies focusing on three different areas: Qatariat Training and Development, which targets Qatari women in Doha to develop their skills and expertise; Qatariat Magazine, a magazine for businesswomen which covers local and regional news, including their achievements; and Qatariat Development Consultancy, which targets both women and men in developing business plans and restructuring issues. nAl Ansari also works as a strategic planning director at Qtel.
130. Mona Almoayyed:
The Bahrain Businesswomen’s Society was established in 2000, and is tasked with the development and promotion of social and economical relations among businesswomen in Bahrain. It has been instrumental in moving the issue of women in the workplace onto the mainstream agenda, and today Bahraini women are found participating across all commercial, economical, investment, and developmental activities. As the society’s president, Mona Almoayyed has proved a vocal advocate of social change, this work even eclipsing her achievements as managing director of Y K Almoayyed & Sons. She was also the first woman to be elected to the board of the Bahraini Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Fighting to improve the rights of Bahraini workers is one of the causes closest to her heart, as evident through her work for the Migrant Workers Protection Society.
136. Ghayda & Ghosson Al Khaled:
Al Khaled Sisters Ghayda and Ghosson Al Khaled both play starring roles at Kuwait’s ACICO Industries Company, a firm established in 1990 and listed on both the Kuwait & Dubai financial markets. Ghayda Al Khaled (pictured) is chairperson at the company, which has interests in construction, cement manufacturing and real estate, among other sectors. Not to be outdone, her sister Ghosson has civil engineering and building science degrees, and has made her way up the corporate ladder to become chief operating officer. nThe firm in April reported a 49.6 percent decline in full-year profit to KWD1.9m (US$6.7m).
140. Nayla Al Khaja: Nayla Al Khaja, the UAE’s first female filmmaker, has already made three short features in her brief career. One of Al Khaja’s films won a prize at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007. In addition, the Emirati has also set up her own production company (D-SEVEN), and she also heads up the UAE’s first official film club. Al Khaja’s career choice coupled with her willingness to tackle taboo subjects has often led to controversy. Her last short film, which was released in 2010, took a look at the issues raised by arranged marriages. In ‘Malal’ a young Emirati couple visit Kerala on a honeymoon that is soured by the wife’s boredom with her new husband.
144. Nancy Ajram:
Visit virtually any city in the Middle East, and the face of Nancy Ajram will inevitably be staring down on you from the nearest billboard. Although she advertises pretty much every product known to man, she is — of course — best known as a singer. Winner of a 2008 World Music Award for best-selling Middle Eastern artist, Ajram has even been named by no less than Oprah Winfrey as of the most influential personalities of the Middle East. A legend in her own lifetime, Ajram has sold over 30 million records. Born in Beirut, she took part in a Lebanese TV reality show at the age of twelve, winning a gold medal. She released her first album in 1998, aged just fifteen, and her next two albums, in 2002 in 2004, cemented her position as a regional superstar. In 2010, she was nominated by Coca Cola to sing a track written for the World Cup. Ajram’s Facebook page has well over three million fans.
147. Christine Sfeir:
At just 22 years old Christine Sfeir persuaded Dunkin’ Donuts to hand over the company’s Lebanese franchise to her. “It was a huge risk because I was 22, I was female and the idea of American coffee and doughnuts was the last thing on people’s minds. But I had a hunch and a vision,” she told Arabian Business last year. nThe rest quickly became history, with the franchise becoming a huge success in Beirut. Five years ago, she added the Lebanese brand Semsom to the fold, and has expanded it into Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. New outlets are soon to appear in India, with six openings planned for 2012. She now manages a total of 400 staff.
150. Maria Maalouf:
The Lebanese journalist and political analyst is best known for presenting the television programme ‘Without Censorship’, which covered a range of topics including nepotism and fraud in the Arab world. Maalouf made international news when she received death threats following an interview with a German criminal investigator, who accused the Moassad of assassinating the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. She is a member of the Syrian National Society Party.
152. Afnan Rashid: Al Zayani Wife, mother, television cooking show star, activist and multi-million-dollar company CEO, Afnan Rashid Al Zayani, president of Al Zayani Commercial Services, transcends categories. A former vice-president of the Bahrain bourse, Al Zayani has established business credentials. Named one of the world’s most powerful Arab women by Forbes magazine, her former roles include president of the Bahrain Businesswomen’s Society, where she crafted a far-reaching agenda that catered to all women in business. Added to this, she is CEO of Al Zayani Commercial, director of Al Ayam Press, Printing & Publishing and chair of the MENA Businesswomen’s Network.
177. Nayla Hayek:
When 82-year-old watch magnate Nicolas Hayek passed away two years ago, there was little doubt as to who would take over the chairmanship of Swiss giant Swatch. Sister Nayla Hayek, Swatch’s vice-chairman, had been groomed for the role since she first sat on the company’s board fifteen years ago. For many years she acted as an advisor to the firm before joining the Swatch Group in 2007. A year later, she became the CEO of the Swatch Group’s subsidiary, Tiffany Watch. nHer appointment was further endorsed when sales were up 21.7 percent last year, despite the dire economic conditions.
180. Dalia Mogahed:
Egyptian-born Dalia Mogahed was propelled onto the international arena when she became the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House. nMogahed was selected as an advisor to US president Barack Obama on the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships in April 2011. She joined 25 other religious and secular representatives who report to the president on the role religion can play in resolving social problems. Mogahed also heads up research organisation the Gallup American Centre for Muslim Studies and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arab World.
181. Salma Ali:
Saif bin Hareb Former lab technologist Salma Hareb spent years studying for diplomas in information technology and business while also holding down a job at Dubai’s Department of Health before she decided on a change of career. In 1997 she started working as a planner for Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA), the operator of one of Dubai’s busiest and most important free zones. Hareb quickly moved up the ranks and in 2005 was appointed the CEO of JAFZA, as well as its parent company, Economic Zones World (EZW). “In the end we are motivated by a desire to serve our customers better,” she says.
187. Nujood Ali:
In 2008, a ten-year-old made an appearance in a Sana’a court, demanding a divorce from her husband, a man in his 30s. Nujood Ali, whose family lived in a suburb of the Yemeni capital, undertook an arranged marriage two months previously, and was regularly beaten by her in-laws and raped by her husband. Ali escaped from her husband’s, and a local lawyer, Shada Nasser, agreed to take on the case. Ali won her case and she became a figurehead against forced marriage in the impoverished country. nShe also visited the US, where she was named one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year”.
197. Nahed Taher:
Dr. Nahed Taher is a leading economist and executive banker and the first female CEO of an investment bank in the GCC. Prior to co-founding Gulf One, Dr. Nahed served as chief economist and chairman of the Risk and Portfolio Management Committee at NCB in Jeddah. Prior to NCB, Dr. Nahed held the position of head of the accounting department at the King AbdulAziz University in Jeddah. She has over fifteen years of banking, academic and research experience and is also a well-known personality in the field of international economics.
205. Maha Al Ghunnaim:
Maha Al Ghunaim is chairwoman and managing director of Kuwait-based Global Investment House, and a frequent entry on the lists of the most powerful women worldwide. She came to Global from Kuwait Foreign Trading Contracting & Investment Co. (KFTCIC), the investment arm of Kuwait Investment Company, which she had joined in 1982 after receiving her BSc in Mathematics from San Francisco State University. After founding the bank in 1998 along with friends, she was promoted to chairperson some nine years later, and has since been central to the bank’s policy of winning investment into the Middle East from overseas, not to mention leading the bank through a difficult recession period. Al Ghunaim also sits on the board of several other high-profile institutions in the Middle East region, including Shurooq Investment Services Co, and NASDAQ Dubai.
223. Elham Qasimi:
As the first Arab woman and Emirati to ski to the North Pole in April 2010, the UAE’s Elham Qasimi has quickly become known for her bravery and determined attitude. In addition to her extra-curricular activities, she also has a degree in business and marketing from the American University in Dubai, and a Masters from the London School of Economics. Qasimi took off on the three-week expedition from Borneo, an ice station that floats between 88 and 89 degrees latitude, in 2010. Her journey was unassisted and unsupported, which meant she carried all of the required supplies for the entire expedition with no motorised equipment to propel her forward. On a typical day she would ski for an average of eight hours, with a ten-minute break every two hours to snack, cook her own food and pitch her own tent. Prior to her exploration, the 29 year-old worked at JP Morgan before joining the Impetus Trust as an investment manager. In order to build her physical and mental endurance for the expedition, Qasimi embarked on a high-performance training programme designed to optimise strength and power whilst enhancing agility and speed.
238. Haifa Wehbe:
Having been on the cover of over 100 magazines, Lebanese model, actress and singer Haifa Wehbe is well known across the Arab world. She rose to fame as runner up Miss Lebanon, before releasing her debut album Houwa El Zaman in 2002. She has since released several more albums selling millions of copies across the region, and starred in films including the 2008 Pepsi-produced Sea of Stars. In 2006, she was on People magazine’s 50 most beautiful list.
247. Zeina Tabari:
After finishing her degree in finance, Zeina Tabari wanted to open a chocolate shop. Never did she expect to be working for her father’s mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) specialist company. But when she was offered a three-month internship in the HR department, she took the opportunity. Before she knew it, she was offered a full-time job. Today, as chief corporate affairs officer of Drake & Scull International, Tabari heads up the company’s investor relations, and some experts in the industry have already touted her as a future boss of the entire firm. The Dubai-based company is now known as a multibillion-dollar regional powerhouse, with a market cap of AED1.81bn ($493m), 20,000 people in twelve countries. In the first quarter of this year, the firm reported net profit off AED42m, against AED69m last year.
248. Susan Youssef:
Susan Youssef spent a long time deciding what she wanted to do with her life, but in the end it was worth the wait. The 34 year-old film maker and director, whose film Habibi won the award for Best Arab Feature Film at the 8th Dubai International Film Festival, is now recognised around the Middle East for her talent. Youssef spent most of her early life in the US. When she finally moved to Lebanon aged 22, she began her career as a school teacher, and later then worked as a journalist at the Daily Star in Beirut. It wasn’t until she submitted a short film about her grandparents to film schools in the US that she received a scholarship from the University of Texas to pursue her dream. She has since directed several short films, and her first feature film, “Habibi Rasak Kharban” — a love story set in Gaza — has been described as a daring romantic drama with an intense, but uplifting political message.
250. Fatima Mernissi:
Fatima Mernissi has published several books on the position of women in the rapidly changing Muslim communities in Morocco. Born in Fes in 1940, she published the result of her first fieldwork: ‘Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society’ in 1975. Much of her work has been translated in many languages and is widely read in Islamic countries. In the 1990s, Mernissi stopped working on women’s issues and switched to civil society. Having studied political science at the Sorbonne and at Brandeis University, she is currently a lecturer in sociology at the University of Rabat.
Celebrating her 40th birthday in October, Elissar Zakaria Khoury has had a fantastic journey. In fact, her eighth album is set for release this year. Simply known as Elissa, the Lebanese singer is a recipient of the World Music Award for best-selling artist in the Middle East. She has won the World Music Award accolade three times, an achievement yet to be matched by any other Lebanese performer. Elissa has recently resigned from her post as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, as her requests to create a program to include onsite visits to affected areas of the Arab World were ignored.
304. Sulaf Fawakherji:
Sulaf Fawakherji is perhaps Syria’s most popular television and film actress.
341. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid:
Thoraya Obaid was the first Saudi national to be appointed head of a UN agency, when she took on her current role at the UN Population Fund.
343. Ahdaf Soueif:
Ahdaf Soueifs latest book documents the events that took place in Tahrir Square last year.
345. Wedad Lootah:
Wedad Lootah has earned high praise through her efforts to solve sexual problems between couples.
353. Hanan Ashrawi:
Politician and activist Ashrawi is a leading proponent of Palestinian statehood.
355. Haifa Al Kaylani:
Haifa Al Kaylani is a top advocator both of womens rights and female employment issues in the region.
388. Leila Ahmed:
Feminist Leila Ahmed is the first womens studies professor at Harvard Divinity School.